Filmmaker Pritha Chakraborty on women in film

Pritha Chakraborty is an Indian filmmaker. Her latest documentary Silent Voices will have its European premiere at Sheffield Doc Fest, where it has also been nominated for Best Short Documentary. I spoke to Pritha about women in the film industry and her work.

Still from Silent Voices

AK: Have you, as a woman, felt like you have been faced with obstacles within the film industry because of your gender? Is there any cultural specificities in India compared to the West? 

PC: Underrepresentation of women in the industry attributes to many factual compulsions and customary practices in a society. It is not endemic to the film industry alone. It is universal, true to any profession, changing though. 

I personally never felt I have obstacles in my profession for my gender identity. Industry needs skill set and talents, cannot afford to search for gender validity.

In Indian context, we have different social and historical narratives compared to the West. Ours is  diverse and pluralistic multi-soceity with a seamless continuity of popular domination of medieval institutional practices in a re-centralised feudal hierarchies. It is intense and varies from region to region. We represent fragmented micro spaces which are being evolved cautiously keeping the measured balance with internal ecosystems. Our alteration process is hopelessly slow, and we fight fierce resistance from within. With regard to positive positioning of women in the society Indian narratives are struggling hard to offset the mainstream which is a combination of religion, rituals, traditions, perception of ownership and mistrust!

AK: Women tend to be more successful within the documentary field. Why do you think that is? Is there more demand for female stories within the documentary genre that fiction? 

PC: Since the last decade, in fact, women creativity has been extremely successful in IT, Media and Service industry. There has been an immense contribution from women to empower the core energy of these industries. Two factors are responsible to bring about such changes. One – women are generally composed and creative and they internalise the issues with great degree of conviction. Secondly – they are committed to productivity as they are absolutely aware of dynamic factors which  can disempower them once again!

Human narratives pertaining to a particular political space and culture are mostly centred around women. Family being the core social institution, women are in centrestage. Unfortunately we did not have much exploration of intriguing aspects of personal and collective emotion, strategies for survival, sacrifices and values told from women’s perspective…precisely a non-mainstream perspective. Stories are not necessarily interpreting space lived in particular time…rather stories redefine the soul and mind of individuals living in the specified dynamics. Women absorb, observe and respond to situations with patience and  with holistic perspective. It is historically true that women believe in ownership but this ownership is extremely vast and it embodies all who are belonging to them. Hence stories coming from them always have richer intrigues.

It does not imply that women authors only can offer truthfully layered experience of women-centric stories. It is time for any storyteller to unveil the unique world of women and that should not be necessarily from women’s perspective…from the perspective of human truth only.

AND documentary narrative is not synthesised to achieve credible dramaturgic achievements like fictional reconstructions; it is the experience sliced out of life with a sensitivity of truth. Let us all rather explore this incredibly vast world of ownership (women‘s own world),  for better understanding of social institutions. However, these are to be placed into the social space beyond gender specificities. 

AK: Tell me more about Silent Voices. How has the film been received in India? Do you feel like female stories get told in an appropriate manner?

PC: The concept was pitched in two successive pitching sessions. I was a bit hesitant. I was not sure whether I will be able to shoot the way I wanted to explore. But I was encouraged by senior filmmakers and other panel members. In fact every one wanted me to tell this story. It was funded by Films Division under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India. I was overwhelmed by the responses I have got. Every one wanted the film [to be] made.

Production was a bit challenging and  soon I found I was not welcome to talk about something that happened in my family. I realised that shooting in your very own space is not easy when a few uncomfortable questions are being raised.

I really wanted to go much deeper and it is the story where I wanted to delve into the precarious position of the families and parents who quietly believed that my sister had to inevitably go through this without any other option. This is so normal to Indian families who sacrifice their girls.  I sincerely believe that I need to make another film to push  the discourse wide open.

silent voices
Still from Silent Voices

Silent Voices will be screened at Sheffield Doc Fest 12 and 15 June. More of Pritha’s work on her website

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